I am the English teacher who may or may not have written on her teaching job applications and cover letters, “I love books” as the attention getter. My friends made fun of me, but I honestly did not care. How else was I supposed to communicate my passion for reading to people who are looking to hire an English teacher? My passion continues to burn bright, perhaps brighter than ever before.
Last spring, my students wrote their reflections about their progress about the books they read over the course of the year, and I did the same. As I filled several pages of my composition notebook, I realized I needed to be better at being a visible reader for my students. They saw me read occasionally when we calculated page goals or did speed dating with a book, but they did not see how much I read. I’ve been keeping track of the books I’ve read since 2005, but no one has ever seen these lists.
During the school year, when I talked to my students about the books I was reading, they thought I was crazy. “Oh Mrs. H, you love books, that’s why you read so much. You must not have a life.” I smiled pleasantly
I do have a life — a reading life.
(I feel like I should make a metaphor about books and donuts because I love both…a lot…!)
Fast forward to September 2015: New year, new energy. Making my reading life visible was my main goal. I wanted my kids and their families to see from the moment they walked into my classroom that books matter to me and that reading is what my soul needs to survive and thrive. Most days I can’t wait to get home, lay in bed, and read.
I hung two sheets of giant butcher paper on my walls by my desk. One was labeled “Hepworth’s To Read List” and the other “Hepworth’s Books Read June 2015 – June 2016.” Students are tickled pink when they recommend a book to me and I put it on my “to read” list. Already several times this year, I had to stop reading other books just so I could read this one book for this one students so we could talk about it.
I love tracking when I start and finish a book because it has led to a lot of great conversations with students about the importance of meeting page goals and reading two hours every week. Many times, students and I compare our after school schedules and realize that we are very similar with very busy schedules.
And yes—there is always time for reading. And no—I don’t read faster than them just because I’m older.
I also try to fill out my chart when kids are in the room so they know that my list does not magically grow. I am reading with them, one day at a time.
Catherine Hepworth has been teaching for 10 years; she currently teaches English and coaches Forensics at Franklin High School in Wisconsin. In the summer, when not reading books or frantically sewing historical clothing, she participates in living history events around the Midwest. Check out her living history/sewing blog at https://catherinetheteacher.wordpress.com/.
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I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again–I feel so LUCKY to have met you and your amazing colleagues in Franklin. You are a tremendous thinker and a wonderful model for your students. Love your ideas here!
In addition to keeping our own lists, we could tweak the list to make it into a campus-wide competition for students and teachers?
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I’m so glad you will bring your reading life to your classroom. I’ve really enjoyed the community that has been created as a result of all of us keeping track of the books we’ve read and the ones we want to read. It generates a lot more discussion than I thought it would and I adore when I actually see kids adding to their “to read” list.
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All of this is brilliant, of course, but it also makes me think about ways to make visible other beliefs. Thank you for this thoughtful and important post.
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Love this! Adding to my to-do list for next year!
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